Institute for Rural Development

University of Venda

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The Institute for Rural Development (IRD) is the flagship unit of the University of Venda (UNIVEN) which is mandated to spearhead programmes designed to achieve the institution-wide vision, viz. to be at the centre of tertiary education for rural and regional development in Southern Africa. It seeks to make a significant impact in Southern Africa. However, Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces in South Africa are the principal focal areas. Here we share with you a snapshot view of our drive towards “Taking the university to its rightful owners – grassroots communities” as the rural development propeller.


Director, Institute for Rural Development

Phone: +27 15 962 8804

About Us


South Africa’s higher education sector is faced with the challenge of accelerating transformation and restructuring in order to align itself with the 21st Century national and international development imperatives. At the same time, there is a greater need than ever before to promote internationalization and create an environment that enables the mobility of students and professionals across national boundaries.  These strategic and policy thrust realities have over the years partly compelled UNIVEN to weave them into its teaching and learning, community engagement, and research and innovation as it  recalibrates itself to become a comprehensive university. Also, the university’s strategic location in relation to the rest Africa and the fact that most of its students come from poor rural areas demands that it offers programmes that resonate with this reality. Thus, it was not surprising that in 2007 the university adopted the vision. The subsequent re-engineering, rationalisation and reconfiguration of UNIVEN’s core business saw it merging the then eight year old Centre for Rural Development (CRD) which had been a component of the School of Agriculture since its inception, and the Institute of Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Poverty Eradication in the now defunct School of Postgraduate and Integrated Studies. This process gave birth to the Centre for Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation (CRDPA) in November 2008 and its retention as a component of the School of Agriculture.

In November 2010, the UNIVEN Council approved the CRDPA’s business plan. Thereafter, the phenomenal growth of the CRDPA, particularly in terms of its postgraduate research and community-based programmes  led to the partial delinking of the CRDPA from the School of Agriculture. This institutional re-engineering was designed to enable the CRDPA to enjoy some autonomy and also facilitate better growth and development, which indeed occurred. In recognition of this, the CRDPA was, in 2012, elevated to the current Institute for Rural Development (IRD).

The IRD Mandate

The IRD was established to serve as a flagship unit of UNIVEN with the mandate to spearhead efforts towards achieving the university-wide vision. In order to fulfil this mandate, the IRD strives to demonstrate excellence in participatory action research, teaching and learning as well as postgraduate studies on rural transformation and development. This is realized through appropriate deployment of expertise in research and practice-enriched teaching and learning, and processes that might precipitate people-centred rural development. As the rural development propeller, the IRD’s work derives its energy from the dream of “Taking the university to its rightful owners – grassroots communities. Below are the key elements of the IRD mandate:

  • mobilizing and organizing staff, students, rural communities and other stakeholders for collective action against poverty and underdevelopment;
  • mobilizing resources for use in formal and non-formal education, training and skills development programmes;
  • facilitating university-wide activities that inculcate an entrepreneurial culture and support development initiatives;
  • serving as a focal point for structured deliberations and debates on contemporary rural development issues in South and southern Africa;
  • mounting appropriate technology-focused programmes in order to close the gap between the knowledge generated in research institutions and the impact it has on the growth and development of rural communities; and
  • establishing healthy national and international partnerships and networks to support rural development.

The mandate articulated above informed the IRD vision, mission and strategic goals. These pillars of the IRD core business are explained below:

Our Vision

To become a leading university-based player in combating poverty and rural underdevelopment in southern Africa

Our Mission

The Institute for Rural Development applies people-centred action research principles, and innovative teaching and learning methods in its quest to provide effective leadership in finding appropriate solutions to the multiple and complex  underdevelopment-related challenges of rural communities in southern Africa.

Our Strategic Goals 

  • To combat poverty and rural underdevelopment through facilitating implementation of community-based, people-centred and self-reliance programmes;
  • To enhance research and innovation for rural development;
  • To promote facilitation of quality teaching and learning in postgraduate training and need-based short learning programmes for rural development; and
  • To establish viable linkages and strategic partnerships for combating poverty and rural underdevelopment.

Our Values

The desire to excel in participatory action research, teaching and learning in a comprehensive university that is located in a rural area defines the nature of our academic endeavour and development practice. In addition to upholding the core values of UNIVEN, we believe in the following set of professional principles: 

  1. Commitment to serving rural communities: Our passion for people-centred development and research-informed decision-making underpins our work. This recognizes and embraces various socio-cultural values, among which are respect, love for others, social giving and trust.
  2. We endeavour to ensure that the strategic and collegial teamwork we create determine the nature of our development practice.
  3. Benefit sharing: The benefits that arise from our collaborative work are shared to mutual satisfaction.
  4. Inclusivity and participation: The equity and dress policies of UNIVEN and supremacy of the South African Constitution of 1996, including the centrality of stakeholder participation, shape our professional practice.


  • To combat poverty and rural underdevelopment through facilitating implementation of community-based, people-centred and self-reliance programmes;
  • To enhance research and innovation for rural development;
  • To promote facilitation of quality teaching and learning in postgraduate training and need-based short learning programmes for rural development; and
  • To establish viable linkages and strategic partnerships for combating poverty and rural underdevelopment.
Director's Profile

Prof J. Francis (PhD)

Prof J. Francis

Prof Joseph Francis is an academic and rural development practitioner who holds a PhD in Animal Science obtained from the University of Zimbabwe. His PhD research focused on an examination of smallholder dairy farming as a vehicle for rural development within the context of integrated crop-livestock systems. Prior to his appointment as Associate Professor in the Institute for Rural Development (IRD), he served as a Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Youth Studies at the University of Venda (UNIVEN) from August 2004-July 2007; Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Pretoria’s Postgraduate School of Agriculture and Rural Development (June 2002-August 2004) and Lecturer at the Zimbabwe Open University (February 1998-June 2002). As the Director of the IRD, his responsibilities encompass research, teaching, community-engaged work, resource mobilization, and leadership and management of the IRD.

Throughout his academic life, Prof Francis has extensively worked with grassroots communities in various countries in Southern Africa (in particular Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe) as one of the champions of the WK Kellogg Foundation-funded Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP). During the past ten years, he concentrated his work more in the rural areas of Limpopo Province in South Africa. His exemplary leadership and acumen in community-engaged scholarship have been demonstrated through the on-going Amplifying Community Voices programme. In 2008, the latter programme won a silver award in the Impumelelo Innovation Trust competition followed by third prize of the MacJannet Prize of Global Citizenship in June 2011. Another significant milestone in the growth and development of ACV has been the fact that it gave birth to the Amplifying Community Voices Students Association (ACVoSA), which was officially recognized as a bona fide student organization at UNIVEN and subsequently launched in November 2012. The ACV approach is gaining widespread recognition as a potential roadmap for constructing community-owned municipal development plans or strategies, especially in Vhembe District. In recognition of the importance of the engaged work that Prof Francis is championing with students at UNIVEN, in 2012 the Talloires Network-Kettering Foundation invited him to package a chapter, “Amplifying Community Voices in South Africa: Nurturing Transformative Leaders for Rural Development“ for inclusion in a book that showcases exemplary university academic staff-led initiatives.

Prof Francis’s deep knowledge and experience with application of participatory tools in development practice saw him being requested by Vhembe District Municipality to facilitate stakeholder engagements that culminated in the establishment of the highly vibrant Vhembe District Land Development Forum. It is also worth noting that between 2005 and 2011 he served as the lead facilitator of multiple stakeholder engagements on skills development at the request of the Local Government Sector Education Training Authority (LGSETA) in Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces.

Prof Francis’s competencies include both academic and participatory process facilitation. He has vast experience in smallholder dairy farming; research; postgraduate student supervision; field application of participatory development techniques; monitoring and evaluation of development programmes; rural development; participatory community development planning; community empowerment; local government and open learning or distance education. So far, he has co-authored a book entitled, “Performance and Nutritional Management of Draught Cattle in Smallholder Farming in Zimbabwe,” four chapters in books and more than 30 peer-reviewed scientific research papers published in various journals. Also notable is the fact that he has presented approximately 80 papers in conferences and symposia. The fact that Prof Francis has so far successfully supervised 27 research-based Masters and 14 PhD students speaks volumes about his standing in academic circles.

Among the collection of self-study books/manuals he authored for smallholder farmers and grassroots community members’ use is “Fodder Banks in Livestock and Dairy Production with Drought in Mind.” The latter booklet has to date been translated into more than four languages in Eastern and Southern Africa, mainly as a result of the high demand for it.

Supervision of Postgraduate research

i. Mentored 4 Postdoctoral Fellows since 2010.
ii. 36 PhDs – Also currently promoting or co-promoting 7 PhD candidates, 5 of whom are on the verge of completing studies.
iii. 44 Research Masters – also currently supervising 8 Masters students, 6 of whom are on the verge of completing studies; and
iv. More than 90 Honours Research Projects or Mini Dissertations.


i. 71 articles in accredited journals; More than 80 conference/workshop papers;
ii. 2 policy briefs on institutionalising innovation toolbox into local economic development in Local Municipalities;
iii. 1 co-authored book;
iv. 3 book chapters; and
v. Self-study book/manual for use by smallholder farmers, i.e.: Francis, J. 1998. Fodder Banks in Livestock and Dairy Production with Drought in Mind, 74p.
Swedish Cooperative Centre/Zimbabwe Farmers Union, Harare, Zimbabwe. ISBN 0-7974-3062-1

Awards of Excellence

Silver in Impumelelo Innovation Trust (2008) and Third Prize
MacJanet Prize of Global Citizenship; Various Vice Chancellor Awards of Excellence in
Research and Community Engagement at UNIVEN


Name: Dr Jethro Zuwarimwe
Designation: Senior Lecturer/Lecturer

Name: Prof Joseph Francis
Designation: Director

Name: Dr Marizvikuru Manjoro
Designation: Professor

Name: Ms Beata Mukina Kilonzo
Designation: Senior Lecturer

Name: Mrs Mildred Mphaphathe
Designation: Secretary

Name: Mrs Mushaisano Agnes Mathaulula
Designation: Professor/Associate Professor

Name: Mrs Grace Bicha Oloo
Designation: Senior Lecturer

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